Short story from Dami Lare

Zubayat

She tells me it will be alright, I nod my head thrice like I agree; but I know it’s a lie, it would

not need to be alright if things were already alright, and if isn’t alright, why should she think

it will be.

Salome you aren’t a believer like me she says, I ask her what a believer means, she laughs in a

funny way, which makes me laugh too and tells me the story of Babayaga.

Babayaga is an old hag, an ugly Witch she says; she has big snakes for hairs and long thin

claws like Asa. She rides a broom and flies at night. She scares little children on their beds

and cooks those who become scared to eat or sometimes eat them raw, just for the fun of it;

with their limbs crunching like Iyaibo’s chewing stick in her mouth.

“Ugly like her” I point towards a pito seller with long tribal marks.

She laughs loudly, shaking with tears rolling from her eyes. I do not laugh; I am too scared to

laugh.

Only those who know Babayaga cannot harm them are the ones she cannot devour.

“Dee—va—waah”, I pronounce to myself.

I tell her to stop, I do not like today’s story. I do not want to be eaten by Babayaga.

As we set to leave the motor park, I ask her, “Is that what a believer is?” she nods, and says

anybody who believes nothing bad would happen is a believer.

We walk into the rain with our empty trays, cutting in-between horning cars and crazy okada

riders looking for shelter, I wonder if I am one, I do not know if I am a believer, I fear

Babayaga will eat me tonight.

I decide not to sleep on the bed.

***

The house is fully occupied tonight, like it was yesterday, and the day before and the day

before that. Zubayat says it is not good for cross ventilation, that the air is stale. I tell Iyaibo

the next day after repeating the words in my dream, cramming the sentence word for word.

“Shut up you stupid boy. Is it your father that pays for the upkeep?” she screams into my ears,

after giving me severe conks on the downside of my head. I cry to Zubayat, she laughs that

her funny laugh, and gives me kilishi from yesterday’s sales. She says she knows what to do.

So tonight, when I say I do not want to sleep on the flat mattress, she looks at me and smiles,

that awkward smile that tells me she knows what is in my mind. I look down, away from her.

We secretly crawl underneath Iyaibo’s window to where the mattress she spreads her babies’

napkins in the day on is and we sleep on it.

No, I sleep on the floor, beside Zubayat, where her hands can reach me when it’s time to go

back to the overcrowded room. Zubayat sleeps on the bed.

I smile, tonight Babayaga cannot reach me.

I smile again, like Zubayat.

***

It does not rain today, but sales do not go well too. It is shinning too much. The sun just sits

there and smiles all day long. It is smiling too much today. I once told Zubayat that whenever

the sun is happy it smiles, and that in the evening or at night it is always sad, that is why it

does not shine. Zubayat laughs and does not say anything, she just whistles. I tell myself I will

ask her again about the sun.

I look for Zubayat, I do not see her. I wonder why everything is too much. I want to believe it

will be okay, like Zubayat says and that the sun will get sad, so I can sell well and Oche

would not outsell me today. Iyaibo always praises him as the best amongst us, he and Dongo;

she gives them extra soup. Not meat. She says meat is costly, only for adults like her.

Even Zubayat does not get one.

I squat beside a meat seller with my tray; he chases me away and shouts wawan yaro in a

language I do not know. He murmurs something in pidgin to his ugly friend, they both laugh

ugly laughs. I am back on the street; the agberos are sweating, jumping up and down, fighting

with their customers over money. Zubayat once said customers are always right, I do not

know if these agberos know that. Me, I do not believe.

Last time a customer almost cheated me; she did not give me money for my kilishi, and says

she did. I cry and cry, she says she has, I check myself, I do not believe her, everybody

gathers and she claims I am lying, someone says kids of these days. My ears are blocked with

blown away tears, my eyes are hot from it too, I think only of Iyaibo’s whips but, Zubayat

makes her drop the money. She ties her wrapper and promises to kill herself there if she does

not give her brother money for the kilishi. The woman with the bent legs drops the money.

I ask Zubayat again on our way home if customers are always right, she looks at me, smiles

and says yes.

But not with kilishi.

Someone taps me from behind, I am scared, I think it is Babayaga, but it is not night, so I

smile as I see Zubayat’s lean face under the sun. She has an empty tray in her hands. She has

sold hers finish. She has sold for the week, and she says today is Thursday; me, I do not know

what day it is, just that by Saturday my Kilishi must be finished so I can rest on Sunday like

God did.

I wonder why Sunday is for resting, and why God rested on it, and if he did, why he created

Sunday who does not rest like him. The Sunday at the house does not rest. He falls sick all the

time, his body is always hot, and he talks too much.

Just like me, Sunday did not have a name when he first came to the family house. Zubayat

says he was found outside the family house door, dirty rain dripping on him from the bent

roofs when Iyaibo was going to church. She had named him Sunday, to show that he has

found his place of rest. Whenever Iyaibo tells this story again, Sunday smiles on his sick bed,

and everybody wishes he is born on Sunday. But I overhear Iyaibo telling the Carpenter’s

wife she names us in a way she can easily account for, both of them laugh like disturbed

leaves.

I tell Zubayat, she says I shouldn’t tell anyone. I do not, what do I know?

Zubayat carries my tray of Kilishi and goes back into the park. I keep thinking about Sunday.

***

Something happens today, the others are going to steal Iyaibo’s money. Zubayat has gone

with her to the market place. The room is stuffy, as Zubayat always describes, we cannot open

the window, Halimat is cold. She is older than others, but younger than Zubayat. She is

always cold when others are hot. Musa and Akeem call her aramanda. She has ordered that

the windows remain closed; nobody can question her, not even Oche and Dongo. Iyaibo will

flog them if anyone reports of disrespect.

“Respect is reciprocal” Iyaibo tells us every morning. She says if we cannot respect our

brothers and sisters, how can we respect ourselves. Nobody understands her, but we nod our

heads expecting the watery soup and small garri.

The girls have gone outside to play suwe, the boys, those who are not playing football, Oche,

Dongo, Musa, Akeem, Yusuf, Iliya, and myself are together talking about stupid things when

Prince comes in. He tells us his idea; others agree to steal Iyaibo’s money. I know it is bad,

but I do not know if I should tell them.

I tell them, they all laugh and ask me where my kilishi money is. I say it is with Iyaibo. They

say I have to collect my share and that she won’t give me unless I take it. I do not understand

this talk, but I nod thrice like I do.

We plan.

Iyaibo comes smiling while Zubayatu drags the big loads inside, I help her carry some, and

the girls take the rest in. Some minutes later Iyaibo shouts out of her room and enters ours,

she checks inside Yusuf’s and Prince’s bag. She brings out bundles of twenty and fifty nairas

all squeezed together from their bag. I look up and see prince and Yusuf looking hard at me, I

look away. I want to tell them I know nothing, but they keep looking at me like I know

something, first Yusuf, then Prince, then they turn their face away after saying something I do

not hear to each other. Yusuf hisses.

In the night a man in black comes to take prince away like they took Gabriel and Ramota. The

room becomes less stuffy.

I see Oche and Dongo laugh quietly, they are eating meat.

***

“Why does the sun smile in the morning and gets sad in the night” I ask Zubayat on our way

home. Our kilishi is balanced well on our heads.

She says because nothing is permanent, and perhaps something bad happens to it at night.

“Like you?” She stops walking and looks at me. Her eyes speaks a lot, I ask her why she cries

every Tuesday night. She doesn’t say anything and whistles.

“Zubayat” I call her name thrice.

She doesn’t answer. The fourth time she stops, looks back and keeps walking.

“Let’s go home, it is getting darker” She says.

***

They have come to check us again. Zubayat is putting on a big dress, too big for her. Others

are also putting on new dresses that Mama Kudi sews from pieces of clothes from her

customers. Oche looks funny, no ree–dii–cu–lus, that’s what Zubayat calls it.

The house is in order, and everywhere is clean. We didn’t sleep all night. August vistors, that

is what Iyaibo calls them.

We are made to smile, our teeth have been washed clean with toothpaste and not Iyaibo’s

chewing sticks. Dongo’s teeth is still black, but mine is okay. We sing for the visitors and

they shake our hands. Iyaibo says we are doing well, and when they ask us we all shake our

heads too, like happy mosquitoes.

A woman is talking to Zubayat, she is a bit old, with gold glasses on her small nose. She is

smiling, not like the sun, but a gentle smile. She mentions Aba several times, and tells

Zubayat not to worry. They speak in Zubayat’s language, but I keep hearing Aba. Zubayat

leaves, after she has cleaned her face. The woman gives her money.

I go to meet her in the afternoon and ask her who Aba is.

Zubayat looks at me and smiles.

She gives me hundred naira.

Most of us here don’t know one another’s story, but Zubayat does, and she tells me some of

them. But no one knows hers, except maybe Iyaibo. And she will not tell.

So I sneak into her room, Iyaibo has various files in her room; I wonder why Dongo says that

it is very beautiful. It is file everywhere, on the floor, everywhere. Everybody is outside. I

begin to rub my hands on the file; I carry them like our lesson teachers carry them when they

come to teach us in the morning. I see a file, it has Musa’s name on it. I see a picture of a

baby in a dustbin, dirty things all over it. The baby does not look like Musa, the baby is very

ugly. I drop it.

I see another, it has Aamori’s picture on its cover. She is holding a dirty plastic with her

mouth. I cannot laugh, she looks like mariwo. I begin to look for a file with my picture on it. I

look and look, I cannot find it. I hear Iyaibo’s voice outside. I begin to fear. Then I see

Zubayat’s picture, she is sick in this picture. I open it but do not find her name, what I see

written is Aba.

Iyaibo enters.

***

I do not see Zubayat for three days. And on the fourth day, a big bus comes to carry all of us.

Iyaibo makes all of us squeeze ourselves into the car. Musa and Dong are shouting. Me, it is

my first time in a real bus, not those dirty ones at the motor park.

We enter a big building, I see Zubayat, she is on a small bed; something white is wrapped

around her head, her hands and right leg. She is sleeping. Iyaibo says we should not talk. We

keep looking; Alero and Iliya are smiling, pointing hands. I hate them.

I want to shout Zubayat, and see that she laughs. I call her name gently, she doesn’t even

smile.

Iyaibo says it is time to go. I put the hundred naira in her hand.

***

I miss Zubayat. I want her to come so we can sleep together on Iyaibo’s mattress; I want to

ask her why Iyaibo has not asked me to sell kilishi for the days I didn’t when she was

punishing me. I want her to tell me a story. I want to ask her who Aba is, and why the name

and not Zubayat’s was on her file. I want to ask her my story, why Dongo says I have a girl’s

name.

That night I do not sleep.

I fear Babayaga will eat me, so I do not sleep on the mattress. I stay in the bad room. I try to

believe Babayaga will not eat me, but it does not work. I open my eyes till Fatimah comes to

wake us up in the morning.

In the morning, when Mr Alao is teaching us English, I see the woman with the gold glasses

with another man. They are walking slowly. Iyaibo meets them. They talk for a while and she

opens her mouth. She walks back inside. The woman with the glasses looks at me, past me, I

don’t think she sees me, the man touches her and they both go.

I want to ask her how Zubayat is, and if she is coming home today. I stand up to ask her, but I

do not do that. I keep walking; I walk past her, into the house. I walk past Iyaibo, past

Halimah, past everybody.

I walk into our room and lie down. I begin to cry. I am afraid. I pray Babayaga comes and eat

me.

She tells me it will be alright, I nod my head thrice like I agree; but I know it’s a lie, it would

not need to be alright if things were already alright, and if things are not alright, why should

she think things will be alright.

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